Your Thanksgiving flight might experience turbulence. Here’s the prognosis.

Your Thanksgiving flight might experience turbulence.  Here's the prognosis.
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Turbulence can make even the frequent flyer a little unnerved or disturbed. And with nearly 240,000 flights expected over the Thanksgiving long weekend, at least some will encounter rough air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It almost always starts to get bumpy as soon as we turn off the seat belt sign,” he joked. MorganSmith, and a Boeing 737 pilot. “But honestly, almost everything about turbulence is annoying and harmless.”

Thankfully, the start of Thanksgiving weekend isn’t expected to be particularly bumpy. “There is nothing extreme in the jet stream,” said Alek Mead, an Alaska Airlines dispatcher. “Just until Friday there could be some thunderstorms on the Gulf Coast around Houston and Memphis that could affect turbulence.”

To help pilots find “smooth air,” researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research developed a forecasting model which takes a meteorological measurement of atmospheric turbulence, the so-called eddy dissipation rate, and forecasts it over a period of 18 hours.

The forecast at the top of this article shows the maximum turbulence predicted across all altitudes at which commercial aircraft fly – so an area shown as a moderate turbulence forecast could include altitudes with calmer air. Pilots can use tablets in the cockpit to view more specific forecasts, showing what areas of turbulence are at what altitudes, and helping them navigate over, under or around those zones.

“It’s not an exact science,” said Frau. blacksmith “But it helps us plan for turbulence during a flight — like having flight attendants delay service until we’ve passed an area, or notifying passengers of potential turbulence during the in-flight greeting.”

Airline dispatchers like Mr. Mead create flight plans hours in advance using software using dozens of weather and air traffic sources to try to avoid zones prone to turbulence. During the flight, the dispatchers communicate continuously with the pilots and guide them through unexpected bumps. “These models work well, they are a valuable tool in our pocket. They let us see the bigger picture of where everything is going to be,” he said.

Airplanes also have sensors that read the G-forces loading the plane during flight and automatically generate reports. These reports are added to a database that other flight dispatchers monitor. If there is turbulence in an area, other planes coming along the same route may start to avoid it.

What is turbulence?

“To really simplify it, turbulence is basically disturbed airflow,” said Dr. said Smith. “If the air changes direction or speed, we get some bumps.”

She compared it to a boat on water.

“When the water moves, the boat moves too,” she said. “Like water, air is fluid and has the same effect on an airplane.”

turbulence levels

Occupants may feel a slight strain from seat belts or shoulder belts. Unsecured items can easily be moved. Meal service can still be done, and walking can be done with little or no difficulty.

Occupants feel significant strain from seat belts or shoulder straps. Unsecured items will be removed. Feeding and walking are difficult.

Occupants are forcibly pressed against seat belts or shoulder belts. Unsecured items are thrown around. Meals and hiking are impossible.

An airplane is thrown around violently and is practically uncontrollable. Can cause structural damage.

Most people encounter only the lowest levels of turbulence, “mild” and “moderate,” according to a review of . pilot reports.

“I’ve never experienced severe turbulence,” said Dr. said Smith. “It’s pretty rare, and a lot of pilots I know either haven’t experienced it or have only encountered it once or twice in their entire career.”

Turbulence almost always feels worse than it is, and even official reports can be quite subjective.

“What some passengers described to me as severe turbulence where they thought we had fallen thousands of feet was actually more moderate with maybe 10 feet of altitude difference and a few knots of airspeed variation,” Ms. Smith said.

However, unexpected turbulence does occur and injuries do occur from time to time.

Of the seven million scheduled passenger flights last year, six serious injuries attributed to turbulence were reported in the United States last year, according to data from National Road Safety Committee. So far in 2022, there have been eight episodes in which someone has been seriously injured.

Travel tips for turbulence

“The only thing people have to worry about in turbulence is that they might spill their drink on a flight,” she said. said Smith. “Most turbulence-related injuries come from people getting out of their seats or not wearing their seat belts when the going gets bumpy. So buckle up and don’t put your drink on your laptop!”

She has others Tips for nervous flyers, including sitting near the front where the ride is smoother, and flying in the morning. As the day warms into the afternoon, heat rising from land increases the likelihood of ground level and storm-induced turbulence. She also has advice for younger passengers who may be scared and haven’t yet chosen their career path.

“It’s almost always a better ride on the flight deck than the rest of the plane,” Ms. Smith said. “So if you don’t like the feeling of turbulence, become a pilot!”

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